She wants kids, I'm not so sure...
January 26, 2005 8:40 PM   Subscribe

I'm a straight male in a committed relationship that is washing up against the rocks of parenthood; ie she wants children and I'm not so sure. I am a depressive only child who feels that I *could* be good with kids, but maybe not so much when it's a constant never-turn-off reality. Please bless me with your wisdom.
posted by mookieproof to Human Relations (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW I was an only child, still deal with depression, and don't like kids in general. But I had three and loved them.

But I say that only because it was my experience...YMMV.
posted by konolia at 8:54 PM on January 26, 2005

It's kinda hard to tell you if you want kids or not. I'll try to throw my expereince in there, although I don't know if I'd call it *wisdom* really...

Children will give you great joy and great pain and great frustration and in all likelihood great love. It's definitely a situation you want to be cautious about; it's a sad, sad thing to see an unwanted child.

Patience is required. I would go so far as to say that you won't be a very good parent if you're not patient. You may develop it during the process; that's not uncommon. There are probably other views, of course.

If there are aspects of your upbringing that you'd rather forget, being a parent is the ultimate chance to do right by your child and give him or her the chances you didn't get. That's a pretty powerful thing. If you're bringing another person into the world, do your damnest to bring up a *good* person.

It's good IMHO that you're bringing it up. The issue is best not ignored.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 8:57 PM on January 26, 2005

Who knows whether my experience would inform yours? But I can report that I didn't want kids, went along with it for the sake of the woman I love. When I held my oldest daughter in my arms for the first time I felt a completely unexpected surge of awe, like a vestigal gland kicking into overdrive and supplying me with purpose, intent, focus.

We have three kids. I never would have asked for them, but they have made my life better.

Not simpler. Not easier. Not quieter. But better.

Now I have more people to love, and they love me back -- even though they deny it sometimes. I have been required to grow in ways I would never have ventured otherwise. I am stronger, more patient, more tolerant of niggling stupidities, and daresay more loving. Because I have so much more to love.

My children (and my wife) have forced me to become the man I am today. And I am the better for it.
posted by sacre_bleu at 8:59 PM on January 26, 2005

Go see some family and baby sit some of your relatives....the longer period the better. You'll get a feeling of some of what is there for you.

Of course, you'll love your kids, even if they crap their pants.

The thing that that always is interesting to me, is are you resistant to children...because they're strange (I really like my niece) or is it because that you have moralistic reasons like one more mouth on the planet.

Because it sounds like you're going to end your relationship over this.
posted by filmgeek at 9:23 PM on January 26, 2005

I was getting a burrito at my local taco bar and there was this couple with two kids. The mom was uglier than all hell, by the way.

So I am getting my cup of water and she calls her husband an asshole right in front of the kids. I said under my breath "Your personality matches your face" and the husband heard me. If he had said anything other than glare I would have called her out in front of the whole damn restaurant.

Point is, if you are going to have a kid be a man about it and show them morals. Please. Thank you.
posted by Dean Keaton at 9:56 PM on January 26, 2005

Response by poster: Of course, you'll love your kids, even if they crap their pants.

Wait--they crap their pants!?!

No, I'm not necessarily resistant to their strangeness, and I like to think that MY offspring would OF COURSE be a benefit to the planet. The issue is more me--I'm a good, smart guy, but I'm quite unreliable. I'm up and I'm down. But when you have a child, there's no saying "I don't want do deal with this now"--you're always On. And I'm not always On.
posted by mookieproof at 10:06 PM on January 26, 2005

Do you have ADD?
posted by Dean Keaton at 10:31 PM on January 26, 2005

Parenting is hard. Really, really hard.

IMHO, you really shouldn't commit to having kids unless *you* want kids.

I wanted a kid. I have a kid. I adore her and all that, but damn if it isn't a struggle every single day of my life. I can't imagine the resentment I would build up if I had a kid to make someone else happy.

However, I'm an only child. I have mood swings. And I manage, somehow, to hold it all together and deal with her and be a good parent (I think).

There's some strange overwhelming love thing that happens that makes all the poop and sleepless nights and peanut butter in the hard drive seem silly, even wonderful.

Even when I'm super depressed, it's hard, but funnily enough, watching Spongebob and making peanut butter sandwiches and playing Play-Doh isn't just easier than grown-up interaction, it helps with the depression a little.

But with a tinge of "this isn't what I want" that might be a lot harder.
posted by Gucky at 11:08 PM on January 26, 2005

Point is, if you are going to have a kid be a man about it and show them morals. Please. Thank you.

Morals like calling a woman ugly in Taco Bell.

And bragging about it on the internet.
posted by rafter at 11:21 PM on January 26, 2005

My wisdom: If you aren't able come to an agreement about reproductive policy, you should consider ending the relationship. Having children, despite what parents tend to say, can be an utterly miserable undertaking. Being denied children by a partner who does not want them can be soul-destroying.

Conversely, some people can just bury the whole problem and never be more than a little troubled by it. It's possible to survive a "she does, he doesn't" situation, but the odds are stacked against you.

Sit down. Talk it out. Be aware that "I just don't know, maybe I'll change my mind later" is a legitimate answer -- but a dangerous one.
posted by majick at 11:50 PM on January 26, 2005

Mookie, what do you mean when you say you are "unreliable?" Do you hold a job? Pay your bills (mostly)? Loyal to your spouse? If so, you have what it takes. You will not be a perfect parent--anymore than your parents or mine--but you can be a great one.

On preview: What Majick says is hugely true also.
posted by LarryC at 11:58 PM on January 26, 2005

I'm quite unreliable. I'm up and I'm down. But when you have a child, there's no saying "I don't want do deal with this now"--you're always On. And I'm not always On.

I also go back and forth with my "personal space," and stuff like that. But I find that when lots of demands are put on me, I run my ass off, generally meet them all, sleep well, get tons done, and don't wallow. When *no* demands are put on me, I get nothing done, want even more space, squander all the space I get, and am quite surly about it.

I think I must slip into light depression in absence of things to do. I see big challenges as quite daunting, but I know that they're actually, historically, quite good for me, too. Kids might take you to a different level.

But make no mistake. It's fucking hard. You will have to change. You will have your moments. You will get pissed. But you will have time to adjust to wiping asses before it's possible to scar them psychologically.

I say go for it. What are you doing to do in life? Go back?

Good luck :)
posted by scarabic at 12:01 AM on January 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

Your 'no' overwrites her baby rabies.

If you're ambivalent about parenting don't do it, and don't cave in.

Being denied children by a partner who does not want them can be soul-destroying.

No. She thinks that some hypothetical kid is more important than the relationship you have together. How is that not soul destroying or demeaning?

This isn't about her. This is about you. You can't take this back once it happens. If you capitulate, you'll ruin your life and you won't be able to say it. You can secretly think it, but you'll have to put on that 'It's all worth it' act. Forever.
posted by pieoverdone at 4:18 AM on January 27, 2005

Of course, you'll love your kids, even if they crap their pants.

Umm, not necessarily. I know far too many people who had kids because they wanted to keep their relationship together, or because they didn't know what else to do with their lives, or because everyone else told them that they'd love their kids. Many of them get into their 40s bitter or depressed about their lack of options in their lives. Many of them clearly don't love their kids, but they can't admit it. Some of them go through soul-destroying separations and have to organize their lives around supporting children that they barely have a relationship with.

Don't listen to other people's wisdom. Having kids is not a choice about what to do with yourself and your relationship right now, it's a choice about what to do with your entire life.

Make sure that it's what you really want, not your partner or the people you know who are happy being parents. There's nothing wrong with saying that you don't want to be a parent simply because you don't feel like it. If you're heart is not completely committed to life as a father, you'll wind up hurting yourself, your child, and your partner, much more than if you decide to end the relationship because you have different ideas about the life you want to live.
posted by fuzz at 4:39 AM on January 27, 2005

Ultimately what's most important is to figure out what you personally really want. If you're tentative because you're scared, but underneath it all, the idea appeals to you, that's different from being made uncomfortable or feeling sort of depressed by the idea, but thinking you're somewhat obligated.

You should not have kids if you basically have no interest and just feel like you should do this favor for your SO, because it will not be a favor if that's your stance. You should not deny yourself kids just because you're imperfect, if you actually feel sort of excited or intrigued by the prospect. Your asking this question shows that you're being reflective and thoughtful about the process, which is a good sign that you will take the responsibilities seriously and be a decent parent. So I would say, try to really listen to your heart on this one, and figure out what you actually want.
posted by mdn at 4:43 AM on January 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

my own experience - we don't have kids, and what we see in our friends when they do is terribly depressing. they are exhausted, frustrated, and have no free time or money. they also become amasingly obsessive over their children, and children in general - there seems to be a complete loss of critical thinking, it's just "think of the children".

looking at my parent's generation, many couples (especially mothers who didn't work) seem to have a hard time adjusting when their kids leave. instead of enjoying their new free time, they fiind they have no other interests and don't seem to know what to do with themselves.

in contrast, we have a good life, free time to enjoy it (and each other), freedom to take risks (like moving to a different country to live, without clear sources of income), and are investing the extra money we save in pensions so that we can retire early.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:05 AM on January 27, 2005

If you're not sure, don't have kids.

I've bumped up against this problem myself. I do not want to have kids, and I'm very upfront about this with every potential mate. However, I've met many women my age (31) who desire to have children-- RIGHT NOW. This has both ended relationships and prevented others from beginning.

I'm with andrew cooke: "(parents) are exhausted, frustrated, and have no free time or money." That doesn't sound like much fun to me. Plus I have no desire to be a disciplinarian: "No! Don't Touch That! Put That Down! Use Your Indoor Voice!" etc, etc, and so on for Forever.

It's heartbreaking, but if the two of you want different things out of life, whaddya gonna do? Bringing life into this planet is a huge responsibility. If you don't want that and she does, it's time to call it quits, recover and move on.

Luckily, there are women out there who also don't want to have kids.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:12 AM on January 27, 2005

Maybe in the past you haven't been always 'On', but who's to say that that's the prescription for your future? Maybe you just haven't had anything to be On about. Don't pigeonhole yourself.

Frankly, from my perspective:

a) You're actually using some forethought about the idea of having kids.

b) You speak of possible future children as though they were things you might take some interest in.

c) You know where to put a semicolon.

These put you in the top 99th percentile of fathers already, as far as I'm concerned. I say go for it, as long as the young lady in question is someone with whom you feel like taking on a major team endeavor.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:13 AM on January 27, 2005

I think most of the perspectives in here are pretty enlightening in their own right, so I won't go into detail about my own except to say that I love having kids, but I also always wanted to have kids, so I'm perhaps more predisposed not to mind all the work that's involved. I think the only thing I'd stress is that whatever decision you make, don't regret it later. If you decide to have kids, don't take it out on them when you're feeling like you have less freedom. If you decide not to have kids, don't feel like your life would have been better if only you'd had them. There are a lot of costs and benefits to either approach over the long run, so there's no point in kicking yourself either way: you might have been less happy had you made the other choice.
posted by anapestic at 6:51 AM on January 27, 2005

Frequently, reluctance to have children is merely a cover for deeper problems in a relationship. Having children requires a much higher level of commitment. If you have any doubts about the long term it can manifest itself in reluctance to make this new higher level of commitment. This may be as much about how you feel about your partner as it is about kids. Regardless, you probably should not have children unless you are personally committed to having them. It is not fair to the kids.
posted by caddis at 6:55 AM on January 27, 2005

I am the "accidental" first child of a depressed father who I don't think really wanted me. There are three kids in my family, and my father has at times told all of us that things would have been better if he'd never had us, that he hates us, and so on. We were all good kids, the best we could be, never rocking the boat for fear of setting my father off. That said, he has shown flashes of deep affection and love at times too. The one thing he hasn't done was seek treatment for his depression, even though he knows he has it, he knows I have it, and he knows it runs in his extended family. I try my best to attribute my father's negative comments to his depression and not to his real feelings, for he was certainly never neglectful and worked so hard to give us everything despite his inability to connect in an emotionally healthy way.

My advice to you would be to wait. I like ikkyu2's statement not to pigeonhole yourself; however, I do think it's important that you acknowledge that you're depressed. Working to become as healthy as you can before you consider having a child is vital. It might change your decision, and if you do decide to become a father it will undoubtedly change your relationship with the child for the better.
posted by katie at 7:07 AM on January 27, 2005

Most of the other stuff has been covered, but let me add this: consider your support system. You are an only child, but is she? Do you live near family? Can/will they support you emotionally if you decide to do this? Do you want them to? Do you have close friends who are parenting?

Your experience growing up often colors your decisions about what kind of family you want. Plus, if you are surrounded by nieces and nephews and dear friend's kids, that might sway your decision as well.

It's great that you are talking it out, please keep it up. If you hit a wall and stop making progress, go to a counselor before letting it ruin your relationship.
posted by whatnot at 7:35 AM on January 27, 2005

FWIW, we're not having kids. We have cats. I have, from the first second this subject ever came up, been very upfront about the fact that I do not ever mean to spawn. This is because I know myself. I don't want to share my husband with children. I am, in a word, selfish in this manner, and I know it. It's because I grew up spoiled in a certain way. I wasn't indulged, I didn't get things I didn't work for, but my needs were always my parents' first concern, because I was an only child. I recognize and know that this makes me want to be my husband's primary concern. I do him the same courtesy, but I'm reasonably sure that this emotional need of mine would make kids a bad, bad idea. Besides, I want to be able to travel and do other things with my life -- and having a three year old in Italy is really just not on the list.

Think about who you are, what you want, and what you can reasonably expect of yourself. Yeah, your kids may make you grow into a better person, but they may not.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:49 AM on January 27, 2005

Oh, and by the way: I think it says something that your partner is willing to discuss this with you; to go into parenthood with both sets of eyes wide open. Lots of women might just present you with a fait accompli.

I think it says something good about her.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:52 AM on January 27, 2005

You're making a pretty big assumption there, ikkyu2. For all we know, they use condoms every time. (Oh. Hi, Dave! I didn't know you were here.)

You seem to have an excellent grasp on how big a responsibility this is, mookieproof.

An immense responsibility that will be a dominant force in your life for at least the next couple of decades is nothing to enter into without being sure that that's what you want.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:08 AM on January 27, 2005

Having kids is both harder and easier than you think it will be before you actually do it. Harder because you won't really *know* what it's like until you're there, and you can't turn around and go back at that point. Easier because many people tend to think they need to be absolutely ready in every way before they have children (make X amount of money a year, own a house, etc.), and that's not true - so much of it you learn as you go along, and a lot of things you *think* you need to provide you really don't (i.e. the idea that children cost a lot to raise - not necessarily true).

If you are actually interested in the idea (the way you talk about it seems to indicate you are) and you're not just following along in your partner's wake to make her happy, then I wouldn't worry so much. The fact that you're being thoughtful and discussing it before making the leap means, like a bunch of people have said already, you're already doing well. You do have to put your children first. It will change your life. You can't really be selfish anymore. None of that is bad - but is it something you're okay with?

Most important, I think, is the status of your relationship now - aside from the concern that sometimes people have kids to try and make a relationship better or to please the other partner (not good). Do you communicate well? Do you pick up each other's slack? Are you there for each other no matter what? If you don't feel you're always "on" does your partner fill in while you're "off"? Are you responsible to yourself and to each other? If your depression got worse, would you be sure to seek help?

Do you agree on how you'd like to raise children - have you discussed who will work/who will stay home, or if you both will work, how you will provide care for them? What are your expectations of how having a child will change your lives, and are they realistic? Are you okay with that? Where do you ultimately want to live? What standard of living would you like to have? How solid are your finances/are you responsible with money? What religion (if any) will you raise the kids? Do you have family/close friends living nearby for support? How were each of you raised and what did you like about it/what didn't you like about it? What would you do differently? Do you agree on how to discipline a child? What kind of schooling do you want the child to have? All of this and more, you should be thinking about. You don't want to find out later on that you're not on the same page with these issues - very, very stressful.

The central binding point in a nuclear family is the adults' relationship to each other. If that is strong, you're most of the way there. Good luck in considering your decision.
posted by Melinika at 10:14 AM on January 27, 2005

Good advice here. I'll add one little observation my Mother made right after she and my Dad split up. I was 18.

"Y'know, Billy, I've come to realize something."
"Your Dad and I weren't very good parents."
"You did okay," I said. "It's not like we come with manuals."
And then she paused, and said "Your kids grow up in spite of you, not because of you."

I'm a step-parent now, and whenever I start to worry that I'm screwing him up, I remind myself of this. It's both rewarding *and* frustrating.

It's also handy to have someone else to go get me a beer out of the fridge. Kids are really handy that way.
posted by TeamBilly at 11:32 AM on January 27, 2005

I wrote a book about the "culture shock" of the first year of motherhood. Depending on your particular circumstance, that learning curve can be punishingly steep. But one thing I learned in my research about culture shock and the cycle of adjustment that people experience when they make an identity shift or move to a new culture is that the more a person anticipates the changes ahead of them, the easier the adjustment to the new place/identity will be.

Of course, it's hard to prepare for something you've never experienced, but just the fact that you are investigating the possibilities of what life might be like on the other side of parenthood is really important. The kinds of conversations you are having with your partner are significant ones -- so many of us go into parenthood with nothing more than the faith that at the very least we'll do a better job of it than our own screwed-up parents did, and the reality of it is that it's important to know where you're headed. Hashing out the big issues now is crucial, I think, to having a strong partnership if you decide to have children. Once the kids are there, all the issues seem big and it's hard to know which battles are being fought while you're in the middle of fighting them -- are you pissed because you're the one getting up every hour on the hour, or the one who has to do all the childcare, or are you pissed because you had to compromise your career to take care of the kids while your partner didn't?

But I hear you on the "always on" thing. It's hard, an equal mix of joy and agony.
posted by mothershock at 1:52 PM on January 27, 2005

It's okay if you're not "on" absolutely all the time. Part of what a partner is for is to help pick up the slack when you need a break. Ideally, parenting is a duty that is borne by both parties, in some reasonably balanced way.

A mature person knows how to at least muster enough enthusiasm to do the job passably even when they don't feel like it much (tired, stressed, etc). This can be a growing experience.

I have been required to grow in ways I would never have ventured otherwise.

I would have to 100% agree with this statement. I didn't consider myself all that responsible before I had a child, but lo and behold, I think I manage it pretty well. You may be surprised by what strengths you have that have never been tapped yet.

I have to say that parenthood has bestowed on me the greatest love of my life - the most pure, the most fierce, and the most in awe of the beloved. I don't think I have ever loved someone as much as I love my daughter. My life would be much the poorer if I had never had her. Okay I'll stop gushing, sorry.

And please don't think you have to be perfect. Nobody is (one of the hardest lessons of parenthood involves forgiving yourself for not being perfect). Hell, I know I'm not. Keep your eye on what really matters - meeting the kid's basic needs, and love, tons and tons of love.

When it's all in the realm of hypotheticals, it's all very hard to pin down - you don't know exactly how you would react, say, at 3am with a screaming colicky pukey child that your partner hands off to you and says "I've had enough, I need at least a couple hours of sleep".

But once there's a baby - a line on a pregnancy test, then a heartbeat, then a fuzzy black and white picture on an ultrasound screen, you may find as many do that your dreams start to get invested in this new little life.

If the thought causes revulsion in you, then by all means, avoid it. But damn, the joys of parenthood are sweet. The frustrations are tough, sure, but does anything really wonderful come without hard work?
posted by beth at 5:40 PM on January 27, 2005

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